Movie Review: “Poltergeist”

Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris, Kennedi Clements
Gil Kenan

“Poltergeist” is the worst kind of remake. Director Gil Kenan’s film is neither terrible nor good, but rather flat-out uninspired. This is a remake that brings nothing new to the table. Instead of updating the classic 1982 film, it’s a stale and safe retread. The story is almost exactly the same, and although most horror remakes don’t usually stray too far from the source material, screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (“Rabbit Hole”) hardly ever makes this version feel fresh. Beat by beat, “Poltergeist” is a lame cover song.

After falling on hard times, Eric Bowen (Sam Rockwell) has to move his family – his wife, Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), and their three children – to a cheap neighborhood. The neighborhood is actually quite nice from the looks of it, but there’s a catch: the house they bought is built on an old graveyard, and the bodies in the ground rise up to terrorize the Bowen family. After the abduction of the Bowens’ youngest daughter, it’s obvious why the family has to stay in their haunted house – they can’t call the cops or just leave her there – but this is still a horror movie where characters make incredibly stupid mistakes, and these decisions never come across as believable character traits or flaws, but instead, cheap tricks to achieve scares or move the plot along.

The film mostly consists of expected jump scares. Kenan and his DP, Javier Aguierresarobe, try to build an unnerving atmosphere with roaming camerawork, but they never build any real tension. Technically speaking, their work is more than competent, but none of their aesthetic choices ever add up to more than a few pretty frames, all serving a lifeless purpose. The third act comes close to conjuring up some scares, but by that point, it’s impossible to get invested in anything that’s happening on screen.

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Movie Review: “The Way, Way Back”

Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, AnnaSophia Robb, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph
Nat Faxon & Jim Rash

Earlier this year, “The Way, Way Back” made waves at the Sundance Film Festival when Fox Searchlight bought the crowd favorite for a near-record $10 million, and though that may sound like a lot for a small indie movie, it was worth every penny. Of course, this isn’t the first time that the studio paid so much for a Sundance darling – in 2006, they won a heated bidding war to acquire the rights to “Little Miss Sunshine” – and the two movies are very similar in the way that they effortlessly transition between comedy and drama. “The Way, Way Back” doesn’t have enough emotional punch to be an awards contender, but in a summer filled with big budget blockbusters, leave it to a quaint coming-of-age comedy to stand out as the best of the season.

The title refers to that rear-facing backseat found in station wagons, and this is where we’re first introduced to introverted 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), who’s being dragged by his mom (Toni Collette) to a Massachusetts beach home to spend the summer with her overbearing boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his daughter (Zoe Levin). Trent is a bit of a dick, and he proves as much in the opening scene when, after asking Liam what he thinks of himself on a scale of 1-10, Trent suggests that he’s only a 3. But for some reason, Duncan’s mom likes him, and so while the adults party like they’re on spring break, he’s left to wallow around town on his own. Lacking the confidence to strike up a friendship with the cute girl next door (AnnaSophia Robb), Duncan finds solace at the local water park, Water Wizz, where he meets an unexpected friend and mentor in easygoing manager Owen (Sam Rockwell).

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